Church, Faith and Work

Greg Strand – March 24, 2015 Leave a comment

One of the rediscoveries of the Reformation was the doctrine of justification by faith. It was here that the solas were given their original impetus: Scripture alone (sola scriptura), faith alone (sola fide), grace alone (sola gratia), Christ alone (solus Christus), and God’s glory alone (soli Deo gloria).

Another important rediscovery was the recognition that all of life is lived by God’s grace and for God’s glory. There was no sacred/secular divide. There was no better than/worse than vocation. Rather, all believers live their lives and engage in their ministries and vocations to God’s glory. In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church who saw the sacred as a higher and better calling, Luther and Calvin and subsequent Protestants saw that all of life is a gift and all of it is to be lived as worship of God as an expression of love to God.

In many ways, this needs to be rediscovered again. Many Protestants, including many Evangelicals, need to reminded of these biblical truths. This is particularly true for those God has called into vocational ministry, viz. pastors. In our preaching and teaching, in our applications of biblical truth how many refer people back to the church, the corporate body of Christ in the application of the truths they teach? In other words, faithful application of biblical truth means getting more involved in the ministry of the local church within the local church. That is certainly one possible, and important, application. But it is certainly not the only one. In addition to this application, how many refer people to their missional calling through their vocations that occur outside the corporate gathering of the church? This is certainly another possible, and important, application, one that will affect most of the people gathering on a Sunday morning the rest of the week, their Monday through Saturday lives. (Consider Tom Nelson’s excellent book, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.)

Here are a couple of examples of how to incorporate worship of God in all of life and in all vocational callings in a corporate worship service.

As an example, in The Butcher, the Baker and the Biotech Maker they conduct interviews with individuals with the same four basic questions:

All-of-Life Interview Questions

Question #1: How would you describe your work?

We want a snapshot of the daily life of the interviewee. This answer often builds common ground between the interviewee and others within the congregation, even if they don’t work in the same field.

Question #2: As an image-bearer of God, how does your work reflect some aspect of God’s work? (Gen, 1:26-28, 1 Cor. 10:31, Eph. 5:1, Col. 3:17)

We want to ground the intrinsic value of work in the character of God and frame our work as an act of “image-bearing” (Gen. 1:16-28, 2:15). Therefore, we ask the interviewees to connect their work to some specific aspect of God’s work. In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman offers six categories of God’s work that give us a helpful framework for our vocations:

  • creative work (artists, designers, architects, etc.)
  • providential work (entrepreneurs, janitors, civil servants, bankers, etc.)
  • justice work (lawyers, paralegals, diplomats, supervisors, etc.)
  • compassionate work (nurses, nonprofit directors, social workers, EMTs, etc.)
  • revelatory work (scientists, journalists, educators, etc.)
  • redemptive work (pastors, authors, counselors, etc.)

Question #3: How does your work give you a unique vantage point into the brokenness of the world? (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:10-20)

Some people subconsciously think their work should always be fun and fulfilling, often assuming that the presence of pain and struggle invalidates the goodness of their work. We want them to see that, in a fallen world that is filled with sin and its effects, each occupation has unique hardships and comes with its own thorns and thistles.

Question #4: Jesus commands us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” How does your work function as an opportunity to love and serve others? (Mk. 10:35-45; Eph. 5:1; Rom. 12:14-21; Col. 1:24-27) 

This one provides examples of 5 Ways to Honor Work in Church Services, highlighting both “low touch” and “high touch” approaches.

  1. Preach about work from the pulpit.

Low Touch: Pastors can weave work-related illustrations into their sermons. As Greg Forster notes, “[Jesus contextualized] his teaching to the marketplace. Out of 52 parables, 45 are set in the marketplace: fields, sheepfolds, vineyards, kitchens, palaces, courts, fisheries, and more.” He knew that his listeners spent a significant amount of time at work, and he wanted to connect with them. Preaching on how we can bear God’s creative image? Talk about how carpenters can reflect his creative work when they build high-quality cabinets that serve their clients’ needs. Preaching on how pride destroys relationships? Talk about how lawyers might be tempted to view their partners as competitors and their clients as transaction costs. Preaching on how to apply the doctrine of adoption to our hearts? Talk about how teachers can root their identity in being co-heirs with Christ—even when their paychecks are modest and their students are unruly.

 High Touch: Pastors can also preach sermons, or even sermon series, on a theology of vocation and work. Many of our own Council members at The Gospel Coalition do this regularly—Tom Nelson, John Piper, John Yeats, Tim Keller, and more—even as they keep the gospel central to their preaching and teaching.

  1. Pray publicly for practitioners.

Low Touch: Worship services already include prayers, so why not focus some of them on work? After all, we ask God to help us love and serve our neighbors and, as Lester DeKoster writes, “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” Pastors can find simple prayers for work in easily accessible places, like Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”) and the Book of Common Prayer (For Commerce and Industry).

High Touch: Pastors can also pray for people in different professions by season. For example, in God at Work, David Miller suggests praying for certified public accountants around April 15 and for salespeople and those working on commission at the end of the month and at the end of the year when quotas are due. Lord, give wisdom to accountants, as they help others to steward their resources justly. Give assurance to those working on commission, that you will provide their every need. We can pray for teachers in August, coaches during playoffs, and farmers at harvest time.

  1. Sing songs that celebrate work.

Low Touch: Songs that marvel at God’s creation implicitly celebrate work because work is one way we “subdue creation” (Gen. 1:28). “This Is My Father’s World,” for example, highlights God’s handiwork and common grace, as we sing, “He shines in all that’s fair.” (As a corollary, we ought to be careful about lyrics that downplay such a holistic view of God’s work, too. “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” for example, says that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” in the light of his glory and grace. But John Piper and Joe Rigney have rightly turned that reasoning on its head. See “The Things of Earth Will Grow Strangely Bright” and The Things of Earth.)

High Touch: Modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty explicitly address work in their song “Before You Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer).” It is a wonderful example that can teach us how to pray for our everyday work: “Before you, I kneel, my Master and Maker, to offer the work of my hands. . . . Before you, I kneel and ask for your goodness to cover the work of my hands, for patience and peace to shape all my labor.” (Other hymns: “Take My Life and Let It Be” or “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord.”)

  1. Share testimonies about faith and work.

Low Touch: Churches often highlight testimonies about God’s redemptive work. Why not do workplace testimonies, too? At my church, for example, we have annual testimonies from people whose hearts have been shaped by the ministry of the Center for Faith & Work. The context of these stories is the workplace, but the focus is always on God and what he has done. (See this example.)

High Touch: Redemption Tempe in Arizona does “All of Life Interviews” on Sundays. In front of the entire congregation, a pastor asks a congregant about his or her work for five minutes. Each week, they ask the same four questions as a way of teaching the congregants that they, too, can be image-bearers of God in their own work.

  1. Commission congregants in their vocations.

Low Touch: Many pastors end services with a benediction. Why not use this time to send congregants out from “the gathered church” to “the scattered church”? Now, raise your heads for the benediction. Go out from this place as ambassadors of Christ to love your neighbors and fulfill the Great Commission. Go into your places of work with excellence and hope, as you rest in the assurance of God’s unfailing love and grace. Risk, build, create, explore, sing, and love, as those who have been loved by God. Amen.

High Touch: Redeemer Presbyterian Church recently did a formal commissioning during the service. The Rev. David Kim, executive director of the Center for Faith & Work, said,

In a world filled with brokenness, confusion, darkness, mourning and loneliness, God has called his people to bring the healing light of the gospel into every sector of our city through every profession, institution, and calling. There is no inch of this city where his gospel cannot redeem.

As a congregation, we then read a series of calls and responses that were printed in the bulletin—repenting of our sin of overlooking our great calling, surrendering ourselves to serve God, and praying for his power to serve our city in our respective vocations.

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

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